ST. LOUIS — More Americans filed new unemployment claims last week than ever before as stay-at-home orders and coronavirus concerns rise.
The Department of Labor said 3.2 million Americans filed for benefits, with Missouri and Illinois being high in the rankings.
In our region, business owners have posted signs explaining their situation. Restaurants assure they're "open for carryout" and some essential businesses are "appointment only."
But a common and heartbreaking version reads "closed until further notice."
"It's a totally new process. I never thought I'd end up filing for unemployment in my life," Julie McDonald said after her two employers — both restaurants — decided to shutter their doors.
In the chaos of closures and stay-at-home orders, McDonald said her employers didn't have much guidance, but they did direct her to unemployment. She filed quickly online, but she found one employer's information was missing from the system.
"It made me really nervous, and it made me feel like I potentially could be getting less unemployment because they don't have records of one of my employers," McDonald said.
For the restaurants that stayed open, owners said they're doing everything they can to keep staff paid, and they're seeing the generosity of their customers.
"These people are just good people," Joe San Filippo, owner of Filippo's Italian Kitchen and Bar, said of his customers.
"They over-tip, they have over-bought," he said. "They bought wine. They bought whatever they could do to help me, and then, in turn, shared with my staff."
McDonald — like millions of Americans — is waiting to hear about her unemployment claim and drawing out of her savings.
"I don't have other bills like a house payment or student loans, so I feel like I am in a really great position," she said, adding, "kind of an unusual position."
In Illinois, people have reported busy tones and trouble connecting to the unemployment hotline.
Illinois Department of Employment Security's Rebecca Cisco told 5 On Your Side in an email "IDES is currently working through an unprecedented number of unemployment benefits claims and questions."
She urged residents to file online and avoid the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Cisco said the organization added staff to their call center and said the agency is moving the website to a new hardware infrastructure and increasing web capacity.
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